Cubs

Tuitt's breakout vs. Navy fueled by will to dominate

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Tuitt's breakout vs. Navy fueled by will to dominate

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Stephon Tuitt scooped up a loose ball, took off for the end zone and and didn't look back, running 77 yards into the end zone and to the forefront of minds thousands of miles across the ocean.

"That was the longest run I'll probably ever have in my life," Tuitt said Wednesday.

The sophomore defensive end's breakout game has been in the works since he signed with Notre Dame nearly two years ago. A five-star recruit -- with only superhuman South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney ranking ahead of him at his position -- Tuitt and Aaron Lynch were supposed to be the star defensive ends of the future from the minute each stepped on campus in South Bend.

That's the way things looked in Notre Dame's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State last December. Tuitt and Lynch were perhaps the two biggest standouts in the game. And Tuitt's emergence wasn't a coincidence, as he said the month of practices leading up to the bowl game helped him immensely.

"From that point to the bowl game, it hit me to know about the defense," Tuitt said. "It was all better, (I) was all comfortable then."

Lynch has since transferred to USF, desiring being back in his native state of Florida. But Tuitt's still in northern Indiana, and his offseason mantra is beginning to pay dividends not only on the field, but off it too.

"The only word I remember him using was dominate; dominate in the classroom, which he did in the summer, over 3.5 (GPA)," coach Brian Kelly said. "He's been on this mission of, whatever it is, and it's not just football, it's everything in his life, it's film study -- last night, he's in there film studying, taking notes, and I think he's just a very, very driven young man right now."

Kelly added that, during running drills in fall camp, Tuitt ran not with his fellow defensive ends, but with the team's cornerbacks. He showed off that speed on Saturday in taking his fumble recovery 77 yards into the end zone, sprinting his way toward six points with the kind of speed rarely seen in a 300-pound lineman.

But that athleticism fits with a sight offensive lineman Chris Watt relayed from earlier in the summer.

"In practice one time, Tuitt dropped back in pass coverage and was covering a wide receiver man-to-man and doing it pretty well," Watt said. "We were watching it on film during camp and it was pretty ridiculous."

Notre Dame will face plenty of challenging offenses this season, from Michigan State and Stanford's powerful rushing attacks to USC and Oklahoma's outstanding passing abilities. While Tuitt is only one of 11, he's someone who could be key in Notre Dame's ability to stop those opponents from finding the end zone.

"The fire is lit with him to dominate and be the best at everything he does," Kelly said.

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Training Camp Daily: Peter King Talks Bears Upside

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USA TODAY

Training Camp Daily: Peter King Talks Bears Upside

Training camp Daily: Peter King joins the Under Center Podcast on Day 2 of practice in Bourbonnais. King and John "Moon" Mullin talk Trubisky year 2, Trubisky comparison, Bears upside this season and Urlacher's Hall of Fame Induction.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded link below: